Open letter to Burlington City Council

Here is the open letter I sent to Burlington council,

Staff have recently announced a new schedule for passing the revamped “Official Plan.” The staff proposed timing is completely unacceptable.

This new Official Plan represents a radical change to the city. It contemplates eventually increasing the population by hundreds of thousands of people, allowing hi-rises on thousands of properties with no notification to adjacent owners, removing traditional commercial sites everywhere, making completely unknown modifications to transit and imposing completely unknown costs for it all.

Placing the vote on a decades long plan in April, just one month before the 2018 election season starts in May, seems to deliberately avoid democratic input. Even if the timing is quite innocent, the appearance of impropriety alone demands that the vote be moved off to the next elected council. Staff should spend the next months finalizing a completed Official Plan, completed Mobility Hub plan, and completed Transit Master Plan, with costs. Then we can all have an election on the merits of all of these plans, and costs, and move forward with a mandate and the understanding of the population.

The new plan contains no mechanism to preserve the quality of life for residents; each day seems to have less tree cover, less greenery, fewer local services, more people, more pollution and more time wasted traveling around a congested city. These negative effects are imagined to be offset by a plan for a massive switch to non-vehicular transportation that will be discovered in the future, but has not been presented or costed today. It treats existing citizen's investment in their property, travel patterns and the lives they have built in Burlington as an inconvenience to be swept away. That theoretical efficiencies in energy consumption or land use might occur on a planning spreadsheet is not sufficient justification to draft 185,000 taxpayers into a radical irreversible experiment.

Additionally, the possible closing of citizen delegations before upcoming official plan votes looks equally bad. The effects of the rules and definitions in the new Official Plan requires detailed study, and the public needs much more time to provide proper feedback to council. As one quick example - at first the coloured map (Schedule C) shows pink for “Neighbourhood Centre”, and would seem to protect those traditional commercial sites. This is until you realize that the “Neighbourhood Centre” designation requires re-development to “To ensure the in-filling of surface parking lots (8.1.3.4.1.f).” Some of the rules attempt to distort the free market further and remove surface parking in exchange for allowing 12 story buildings on the site. It's completely unclear what replaces all these traditional commercial sites, or how the commodities of living are to be acquired. It seems as if the current population is to just blindly begin these changes then endure whatever local fallout occurs.

Though Councilors have a provincial direction to review and update the plan with staff, they certainly have no requirement to pass the plan in the current term. Population targets are set out at 2031, which leaves a decade or more before any tisk-tisking might even come from the Province. The current time line is simply not imposed by the Province. However, using this as a pretext again makes it seems like the real purpose of the timing is to remove the discomfort of Councilors and staff having to defend something they suspect voters are unlikely to support.

There is far too much focus on intensification for population numbers alone, and too little on positive intensification to enrich our communities. A focus is needed on quality of life, not the quantity of people. If the plan is worth voting for now, then it should be easy to get re-elected promoting it. If members of Council don't think they can get re-elected supporting it, then they should not vote for it now. It's that simple. Changes this radical require a mandate, and this Council can help more than ever by making sure it exists for the next Council. Please help everyone now by defending the people's impression of our democracy which has placed Council in a position of trust.

Thank you,

Greg Woodruff

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